SANTA CRUZ, TENERIFE

This morning, we arrived in Santa Cruz, on the island of Tenerife.

Unfortunately, this was only a short visit, with an all-aboard time of 1:30pm, so our options were relatively limited.

After yesterday’s adventure, we decided to take a leisurely walk into town. This meant following a thin blue line from the ship that led us through, and out of, the port. It isn’t a long way, but the port is quite boring to walk through.

The town seemed quiet today, which seemed odd considering that a ship was in; no craft market or throngs of people trying to sell us stuff. Also, although it was warm, it sky seemed slightly overcast, with only a hazy sun trying to force its way through.

We took a look at the round lake in the square, and went down into the underground museum where the remains of an old fort are preserved, and the cannon (El Tigra) that is reputed to have shot Nelson’s arm off (the Spanish are very proud of that cannon).

From here, we walked along the promenade to the opera house, with its distinctive curved roof that looks vaguely like a roman legionaire’s helmet if viewed from the right position. We photographed it from all angles and took a look at the portraits of famous figures from music and entertainment painted onto the rocks around the perimeter of the building, before heading back towards the ship.

The stop was short and sweet. There isn’t a great deal to see and do in Santa Cruz anyway, unless you like shopping, which isn’t something we tend to go for. With more time, it is posssible to climb one of the nearby mountains that lurk just beyond the borders of the town, but after our marathon walk yesterday, its probably just as well that we only really had time to walk to the opera house and back.

And so, the Columbus continues on its way, now heading towards our penultimate port stop, Funchal in Madeira, where we are due to arrive tomorrow. Fortunately, it’s a slightly longer day, although we haven’t made any definite plans yet.

LAS PALMAS, GRAN CANARIA

Today, we arrived in Las Palmas, on the island of Gran Canaria.

Our plans for the day were very simple, and had been hatched right back at the start of the year, when we came this way on our way towards South America. In January, we walked around the bay with Ian Butterfield, and vowed to repeat the walk on this cruise, with a view to circumnavigating the peninsula (or at least finding out if such a circumnavigation was possible sinc we’d only approached the path from one end).

This was always going to be no more than a half-baked plan, since maps told us quite clearly that a large portion of the area in which we were planning on walking, marked in red, is designated a military zone. In other words, despite our best intentions, we actually didn’t know how far we would get before meeting some sort of barrier.

The ship arrived in port at around about 8am. We were up and breakfasted by about 9am, and the three of us were on the quayside, heading for the town by about 9:45am, armed with nothing more than water and a steely determination.

It was a pleasant morning a we walked through the town to the bay on the opposite side of the narrowest part of the peninsula. Digital displays along the promenade told us that it was already 20 degrees; we expected it to get much hotter.

We followed the bay round, out of the town, to the area where we reached in January, filming and photographing, and enjoying the morning air. As we walked, we noticed a few caves up on the hillside, and several dusty footpaths heading up the steep slopes, and discussed the high probability that this might need to be our Plan B should we meet resistance on the planned route.

Sure enough, not far beyond where we reached in our last visit, we came to a place with barbed wire and a sign telling us, in no uncertain terms, that passing beyond it was forbidden. So we stopped, and took stock of the situation. The sign was old and badly worn – and barey legible at all. The barbed wire fencing was equally as old and very rusty, and passing through the large gaps in it would not be a problem. To compound our indecision, there were several people clearly visible on the foothpath beyond; mostly fit, young people – runners and walkers, although none seemed to go much further than an old building at the far end of the visible headland.

Eventually, after much umming and aahing, we opted for plan B. To continue onwards, and attempt to complete the circuit, back to the port on the other side of the peninsula -if indeed the path would allow us physical access, would mean a total distance of about 10 miles. There was a good chance that we might get as far as 6 miles around, and then find that we’d have to retrace our steps, which would bump up the mileage count even more so. Since we only had water and no food with us, this coud, potentially, be unwise…. so we turned our attention to the caves…

Our first task was to make height by following one of the dusty footpaths leading up the hill, where there appeared to be a small settlement. The climb took us a while, and when we got to the buildings we were surprised, but also pleased, to discover that it was a sizeable village. Even better… we found a shop in which we could buy food and cold drinks.

We sat on a bench and enjoyed our snacks while looking out over the view, before continuing on towards where we knew the caves to be. This meant climbing yet another hill, from which we were able to see right over the town below, and to the Columbus berthed in the port on the opposite side of the peninsula. Further, beyond the sweeping bay below us, we could see the distinctive conical shape of Mount Teide rising from the mist way off in the distance, on Tenerife, which is where we will be tomorrow.

Sadly, the caves turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. A noticeboard told us that there were signs of them having been lived in by the indigenous population way back in the day. Unfortunately, a barrier and accompanying signs prevented us from walking right up to them. mostly, as far as we could tell, because of the poor, eroded state of the path. We could also see, even from this distance, that the caves are currently occupied by squatters, with sheets hanging up at the caves entrance, and various domestic paraphernalia that basically disacouraged anyone from getting too near.

Our adventure continued as we followed the pathway down, back towards the town, as we found ourselves unable to find a satisfactory way to join the road we originally walked out on without having to hurl ourselves off a cliff or scramble down cracked, craggy slopes. At one point, we did find our way through a broken fence that led into what looked like the grounds of a school, but the gateway beyond appeared to be locked. And then it wasn’t – the gates were opened and several teenagers appeared to be passing through it… Ian made a run for it and got through without being rugbytackled to the ground or accosted by security guards, while Tracey and I retraced our steps up to the upper road and navigated our way around the obstacles, until we all finally met up again, tired and dusty, and ready for a celebratory ice cream on our way back to the ship.

ARRECIFE, LANZAROTE

Today, we arrived in Lanzarote, and we weren’t on tour!

The reason this is significant is because on all the other occasions that we’ve been here (three times, I believe), we’ve escorted the excursion to Timanfaya National Park, to see the volcanoes. It’s a great tour, and one of my favourites, but it also means that in all that time, we’ve never had a chance to wander around the port town of Arrecife… so that was today’s plan.

As with our previous port, we didn’t arrive until 12 noon, so we went to listen to Louise’s talk on underwater volcanoes and how the Canary Islands were formed, before heading up on deck to see our arrival in port.

After a quick lunch, we headed ashore, where we caught the free shuttle bus into town. To be quite honest, we could easily have walked it, but it would have been a hot walk, and the shuttle bus was there waiting and ready to go as we left the ship, so it was a bit of a no-brainer, even if it was a tad lazy.

Arrecife (pronounced A-ress-eefee) is quite a small place, and very Spanish. An inner harbour full of little boats and a number of interesting wading birds provided us with plenty of photo opportunities, after which we headed out to a small fort which is connected to the main promenade via two stone walkways. The fort is supposed to be €3 each entrance fee, but the man at the entrance explained that we could come in for free because their payment machine wasn’t working, and that all they would ask of us was to drop a few euros into a contribution box.

The fort itself is now a museum, the best part of which was the flat upstairs roof, which provided us with some views along the coast and into town.

We continued along the old stone quayside for a while, watching the birdlife, before returning back to the promenade and into town, where we bought ourselves an ice cream and took a look inside the church.

Finally, our walk took us back to the inner harbour, which we walked around at a leisurely pace. There were a lot of bars and cafes along one side of the harbour, but not a great deal else to see, although there was a skeleton of a whale set on two pillars in one section of the harbour, which was quite interesting.

Arrecife is a nice enough place, then, and it was pleasant to walk around. Its backdrop of distant volcanic hills (of which there are a lot on the island of Lanzarote), give it a distinctive look, but there wasn’t much else about the town that really grabbed our attention. The whole town itself is quite low-level with one tall, modern hotel being the exception. It was relatively quiet, but then it was siesta time between 1pm and 5pm. We caught the shuttle bus back to the ship and spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on online stuff before dinner.

After dinner, we went to watch impressionist Christopher Gee’s show, which we enjoyed very much.

Tomorrow, we are in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, where we’ve asked not to be given any escorting duties, as we have a walk planned with Ian the photographer.

BACK AT SEA

Today, we were back at sea, on our way towards our next destination, Arrecife in Lanzarote.

I had a morning class for a change, which meant we had to be up early, in time to set up ready for a 10am start.

Today, I had them painting the Barbary Apes of Gibraltar, which was a challenge, but everyone seemed to make a reasonable job of it.

By lunchtime, I was parched and ready for a long, cool drink. After lunch, we relaxed in the cabin for a while before heading downstairs mid-afternoon to ‘Hemingways’, where they sell speciality cakes and coffee.

We spent the latter half of the afternoon walking several laps around the top deck, counting steps on our respective ‘step-counting’ apps (Tracey’s had one on her phone for a while, and I downloaded and installed one when we were in Gibraltar yesterday), and generally enjoying the light cool breeze and the view of the passing waves… so much more interesting and enjoyable than going to the gym…

GIBRALTAR

Today, we sailed into the Gibraltar. The sea was calm and the weather conditions clear and sunny, with hardly any clouds in the sky at all, so after three days at sea, the top deck was thronged with passengers happy to see land.

We arrived at 12 noon, and both Tracey and I were on tour, with instructions to meet on the quayside at 12:30pm. Fortunately, to compensate for the arrival time, lunch was being served from 11am. Since we hadn’t poled up to breakfast until 10am, all we had was a swift pork roll and a cup of tea before heading ashore armed with the CMV rucksacks and numbered paddles that had ben delivered to our cabin the night before.

Our tour today was ‘The Upper Rock Walking Tour’, which we escorted the last time we were here on the Magellan, last year, and enjoyed very much, so were happy to escort again.

From the quayside, a minibus, capable of carrying only a maximum number of 22 passengers, took us through the town to the cable car station. From here, the cable car took us up to the top of the Rock, where a viewing platform provides extensive views in all directions. To the North is mainland Spain, to the South are the Straits of Gibraltar, beyond which you can clearly see Tangiers and the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, Northern Africa. To the East is the Meditterranean Sea and to the West is the Atlantic Ocean, all of which explains why the Rock of Gibraltar is of strategic significance.

Then there are the apes, of course. Our guide gave us plenty of warnings, and many signs around the cable car station backed those warnings up; don’t feed them, don’t touch them, don’t make eye contact, and if they make a grab for your bags, let them take them – don’t pull back or you’ll have a fight on your hands.

There are roughly 300 apes on the Rock of Gibraltar, who live in about 6 different troups dotted around the small peninsula. Naturally, they are totally accustomed to tourists, and know exactly how to open zipped rucksacks in search of food. Not that they need food; there is plenty for them to eat in the wild, although food is put out for them in order to keep them in roughly the same locations, and to discourage them from going into the town below.

From the observation platform, we walked along good paths and roads, past more apes, to St Michael’s Cave, which is just one small part of a huge cave system stretching throughout the Rock, the moorish name for it being Monte Calpe (I think), which literally means ‘hollow mountain’.

St Michael’s Cave is massive. It is illuminated by many floodlights that keep changing colour, and the accoustics make it perfect for the military band concerts which are occasionally held there. During World War two, it was used as a hospital, and unfortunately, because of that, many of the stalagmites and stalagtites in the main chamber were damaged. There are still lots of other features to see, though, and the cave is well worth the visit.

Once we had emerged back out into the open, we reboarded the minibus, which took us to the North side of the Rock, to visit our last stop of the tour; the Great Siege Tunnels.

These are tunnels that were manually hollowed out by pickaxes and gunpowder during the great siege of Gibraltar, when the Spanish thought they might be able to conquer it and take it back while our attention was focused on military matters elsewhere (that would be the America Civil War, I believe).

In order to successfully defend the Rock, it was decided that a tunnel should be dug through the rock, to enable them to position a gun right on a flat plinth of land overlooking the border with Spain, where enemy troops could lurk out of sight below the curve of the mighty rock face. As the tunnel grew, however, so the plan developed into something quite different. As they knocked holes through to the outside for ventilation, they realised that these were also ideal places to position large cannons, turning the Rock of Gibraltar into an almost impregnable fortress.

The walk up to the tunnels from the place where the minibus dropped us off was quite a trek. The tunnels themselves were also quite a long walk, generally downwards, which then had to be retraced all the way back, up and then back down to the minibus. At the entrance to the tunnels, there is a platform that enabled us to look down upon the runway of Gilbraltar airport, which runs at a ninety-degree angle to the road entering from Spain. This means the whole road has to be closed off when a plane comes in, and the runway, positioned as it is, and short as it is (with sea at both ends) is reputed to be the 6th most dangerous runway in the World. As we stood, a British Airways jet landed and made to look easy, but then conditions were not challenging today.

Finally, we arrived back at the cruise terminal, having dropped a few people off in town, at just before 5pm. This left us with lots of time to make use of the phone data signal to catch up on internet-related tasks (I uploaded three blog posts… you may have noticed).

In the evening, we enjoyed a relaxing dinner with Louise and Neil Bonner in the Bistro. We were joined by Ian later on, and then moved outside and joined Graham, the creative writing tutor and his wife, chinwagging until the ship left port, at around 9pm, which is also when the outside temperature started to drop and it was time to retire indoors.

A fun day indeed!

Also… the clocks go back again tonight, so we finally get our hour back…

Follow watercolour artist Peter Woolley's adventures as he runs art workshops on the high seas…